When the 2015 NFL Draft concluded, Rice cornerback Bryce Callahan didn’t hear his name called. He wasn’t surprised. It was merely another obstacle.
Callahan may have made his name as a local standout in the Houston area – first at Cypress Woods High School & later at Rice University – but he was born in Idaho, the son of a welder, and adapted quickly to a nomadic life where home was most often a backseat, looking out a car window at the world rushing past.
“My dad worked for a welding company. Every time he finished a project, we moved to a different state. All I remember is riding in the car a lot.” – Bryce Callahan
As a redshirt freshman at Rice he was forced into early action against Southern Mississippi during the 2011 season. In his debut he recorded two interceptions – the first Owl with two picks in a game in over 3 years. He finished with 6 picks on the year and was recognized as one of the best cornerbacks in Conference USA and the nation overall.
Injuries derailed his sophomore season, and his numbers dipped a bit. Despite that, Callahan is 6th all-time career interceptions for Rice University, and was considered a dark horse level talent going into the 2015 NFL Draft.
His late-round projections were based almost entirely off of his size – 5’9″, 183 lbs. Many had concerns his diminutive (by NFL standards) size would be a major liability against the ever-growing modern wide receiver position, and while many teams and scouts pegged him correctly as a great fit for a nickel cornerback specialist, his name went uncalled.
Callahan’s phone did eventually ring, and the team on the other end was the Chicago Bears.
“We didn’t (know who Callahan was). He was an undrafted free agent from Rice that our scouts had a good feel for. Right off the bat he showed good instincts, and the more he showed his good instincts and quickness, you kind of forgot his lack of size.” – Vic Fangio
As soon as Callahan got a feel for the Nickel corner position, he wasn’t looking to let go. Over 32 games (19 starts) his first three seasons in the league, Callahan was a constant presence on the Bears roster when healthy, whether he was getting substituted into various packages of Vic’s scheme or making a mark on the special teams side of the ball.
From 2015-2017, Callahan had 71 tackles, 2 interceptions, and 15 deflected passes to his credit, as well as a strip-sack and a punt return for a touchdown. The Bears rewarded him in the 2017-18 offseason with a 1-year $1.3 million contract, and Bryce is on the hunt for more.
In 2018, Callahan has established himself as at worst a nuisance and at best a plague to opposing offenses. While the numbers don’t jump off the page, in four contests the Bears have utilized “the silent assassin” in the blitz to great impact, using his aggressive pursuit to chase quarterbacks routinely into the waiting arms of Khalil Mack, Eddie Goldman, and Akiem Hicks (among others).
Callahan’s first interception of the year came in a crucial moment, depriving rookie Josh Rosen a 4th quarter comeback in his NFL debut. He’s not one for the spotlight, however, but isn’t shy about crediting his coaches and teammates.
“The biggest thing is quarterback cues, learning to play the three-step (drop) and stuff. (Amukamara) is getting me good insight on that type of game…been blessed to be in the same system for now this is my fourth year. Learning and diagnosing their calls and learning how to play the defense better has helped a lot.” – Bryce Callahan
Kyle Fuller, Bears starter, also recognizes: “I call his style a bit unorthodox.”
For Callahan, the road goes on, and the drive is no longer in cars with his family, but within himself, giving him the competitive fire he needs to bring on every play. When he talked to the media after his breakout game in 2011, he summed it up nicely:
“Confidence is key.”